Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"I'd like to say a good word about Michael Richards..."

"...And before you jump to any conclusions, Mel Gibson, too. As long as I'm at it, why not throw in Sen. George Allen? I'm sure I've overlooked others who have recently waxed bigotedly, but these three will do. This is what I have to say: Thank you.

"I say this not because I approve of what they've said but because their remarks have been so roundly condemned that I can see the responses only as signs of remarkable progress. This is particularly the case since the statements exist solely in the ether, largely disconnected from the actual harmful deeds that have often followed such words. In these cases, we have moved past ugly behavior to ugly words. We consider them deed enough." (Richard Cohen, WaPo)

This is an argument that morality (or, at least, society's conception of the degree of wrongs) is relative, and it's pretty hard to refute. Fifty years ago we were still dealing with widespread racist violence, so mere words didn't seem that bad. Now that racist acts have been suppressed dramatically, racist words are "deed enough" to warrant a huge negative reaction.

I wonder what will happen 50 years from now, if suspicion of racism will be enough to warrant similar reactions. I hope we know where to draw the line between actual words and actions and suspected beliefs.

ADDED: Here is the YouTube video of Michael Richard's "racial outburst." I think it's interesting that the press called it "racial," and not "racist." Is a "racial outburst" better or worse than a "racist outburst?"

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